Sunday, April 13, 2014

Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
Jim Jarmusch has dabbled in a variety of genres, including samurai crime dramas ("Ghost Dog") and westerns ("Dead Man"), but rather than adapting to the various requirements of the genres, each of his films feels distinctly Jarmuschian.

So, essentially, the director's latest - "Only Lovers Left Alive" - happens to be a movie about vampires, but it's far from a horror movie. Rather, the film is set in the rules of Jarmusch's world - from the downbeat characters to the eclectic choices of music - and just happens to have two bloodsuckers as its protagonists.

These two vampires are not your garden variety - in fact, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) have not taken human victims in several centuries, but rather pick up their blood supplies from a lab assistant (Jeffrey Wright) and none other than Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), who bemoans how William Shakespeare received credit for all of his written works, respectively.

Adam and Eve are married, but unexplainably live on opposite sides of the world - he in a dusty old mansion in Detroit and she in Tangier. She decides to visit him after he goes through a round of suicidal depression and the two spend much of their time cooped up on Adam's house, decrying the state of humankind (they refer to them as "zombies") and how man has destroyed the earth and ruined its culture. Adam is a musician whose wall of sound-style of music is composed and mostly unheard by anyone, although his one human pal (Anton Yelchin) attempts to convince him to get it out into the world.

If anything, "Only Lovers Left Alive" is the story of two - well, not quite - people viewing our present time as a world on the downslide. It is simultaneously a romance, of sorts, about these two - let's call them - beings who are lonely and a little lost in the world, but grounded by each other.

On the one hand, this is a solid picture - moody, witty and strangely moving at certain points. And yet, it's not among my favorites of Jarmusch's work, which include "Stranger Than Paradise," "Dead Man," "Mystery Train" and "Broken Flowers."

Both Hiddleston and Swinton have magnetic presences - he, morose but good hearted and in need of inspiration, and she, still able to find joy in life after several hundred years of existence. There are a few additional plot lines here - Eve's troublesome sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) turns up unexpectedly and throws a monkey wrench in the lovers' plans, but it's mostly a minor diversion. The duo then later heads off to Tangier and the picture ends with a curiously funny, but slightly difficult to read, act.

Jarmusch is a true original, one of American cinema's most distinct voices. "Only Lovers Left Alive" has a purposefully languid pace, but I don't mean this as a critique. If you find yourself on its wavelength - as I did - you'll be duly rewarded.

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